On Friday, Brian Gionta will be suiting up in the red, white and blue for the Rochester Americans.
Twelve days later, he'll be wearing the red, white and blue for Team USA.
Gionta, a Rochester native and former Buffalo Sabres captain, will be playing for the Amerks Friday night as they host the Toronto Marlies at 7 p.m. in Blue Cross Arena.
"Basically it's something we've floated around a little while ago and toyed with the idea," Gionta said. "It's more of a tune up to get me ready. We were just trying to time it right and it made sense for me to get in some game action. Obviously these guys have been great – the team, the players have all been great. I'm excited to get into a game."
Gionta has been practicing with the Amerks since October, his mind set on being part of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. He wasn't officially named to the team until Jan. 1, but had played with USA Hockey at the Deutschland Cup in November and had been part of the Team USA equation all season leading up to the PyeongChang Games. The U.S. opens the tournament on Feb. 14 vs. Slovenia.
Gionta's time with the Amerks has been invaluable as he is the only player on the U.S. roster not currently playing (the rest of the roster is active in college hockey, the AHL, or an overseas league) and the American Hockey League schedule has been beneficial.
"To be honest, it's a great situation," Gionta said. "In the AHL their practice schedule is much different than in the NHL. Guys in the NHL are playing every other day and not getting too much practice time. I've been getting in a good three to four practices solid every week in Rochester. The practices are great."
But there are elements that can only be honed in actual games. Gionta compares this one-game with the Amerks to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season.
"Little things in games, whether it's the power play or penalty kill or seeing different things or board play and overall timing, it's tough to pick up those things in practice," Gionta said. "This is like a little mini pre-season game, like you would get in the NHL. I liken it to the half-season lockout where we roughly had a week-long training camp and went right into the season. This is a little extra tune-up."
While it's a tune-up for Gionta, it's a key game for the Amerks tied for second place in the AHL's Eastern Conference, trailing the first-place Toronto Marlies by five points.
Rochester is seriously thinking Calder Cup for the first time in years and Gionta has seen a system in place that is helping young talent bloom.
"There's been a lot of change there over the last year," Gionta said of the Amerks. "They did a good job of bringing in a good veteran core of guys that can help the young guys like C.J. Smith and Brendan Guhle, guys that can make that jump in the next couple of years. You surround them with the right guys, which is key, and I think the chemistry on that team is great. They've been playing well all year and just having fun."